So much for EA enabling business process with technology enablement!
The Wall Street Journal, 4 April 2008, reports “Census Bureau Scraps Plans for a High-Tech Count.” Now census takers will have to “go back to paper-based canvassing to count the millions of households that don’t return their census forms.”
“The bureau’s decision to shelve technology that was supposed to make the count more accurate will add $3 billion to the cost of the count,” an almost 30% increase in cost.
Census’s EA plan was to “give hand-held computers to its half million census takers, who would use them first to verify and map every address in the country, and then to follow up on households that didn’t return the six question census form that will be mailed in March 2010. The census takers would then send completed questionnaires electronically to a database, saving the bureau time and money.”
What went wrong?
1) Unclear Requirements—GAO “has been warning for years that the Census Bureau wasn’t spelling out technical requirements for the devices and last month put the census on its short list of high-risk government undertakings.”
2) Requirements creep—“large scope of requirements changes,” which will now not only delay the use technology from use in 2010, but also will drive the contract cost with Harris Corp. up from $600 million to $1.3 billion.
3) Inexperience—“attributed some of the Census Bureaus problems to its inexperience at managing big contracts, especially big technology projects.”
4) Overconfidence—“’The Census Bureau might have been overconfident in how easy it would be’, said Terri Ann Lowenthal of the Census Project, a nonpartisan group.”
Why is getting the census count so important?
“The count has enormous political implications. Census data are used to apportion House seats, Electoral College votes and about $300 billion a year in funding.”
From an EA perspective, the success of achieving a target architecture and transition plan, such as the one at Census for hand-held computers for the census-takers, hinges in large degree of having clear and scoped requirements and line of sight all the way to the technical solution.
Certainly, many IT projects fail to meet their cost, schedule, and performance parameters precisely because of poor requirements management processes.
We cannot be successful with our IT investments and meeting EA transition plans if we don’t start with a clear and definite vision of where we’re going.